Home > Uncategorized > Evgeny Bogat: Hiroshima and Socrates

Evgeny Bogat: Hiroshima and Socrates


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Russian writers on war

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Nazim Hikmet: The Little Girl


Evgeny Bogat
From Eternal Man
Translated by Christine Bushnell

On the morning of the sixth of August nineteen hundred and forty-five, the thick clouds of Hiroshima opened in one spot, and an American pilot, Claude Eatherly, saw trees, gardens….He gave the order to begin.

Blinding lightning struck over the town, then a sea of black, impenetrable pitch raged, and when all was again quiet, there were neither trees, nor gardens, nor children. But even after many years, women in Hiroshima were giving birth to babies that were like spiders and bats. Atomic paganism celebrated a victory. And former major Eatherly lay in a military hospital for the mentally ill.

The story of Claude Eatherly is the myth of the twentieth century.

Wounded unto death by the immensity of the evil that he had automatically (an animated screw in the military machine) unleashed upon the world, Eatherly, his conscience tormented to nightmares and insanity, was becoming a human personality. He sternly judged himself and those who had sent him to Hiroshima. In an ancient myth, a young woman, to avoid rape, prays to the gods: take away my form! Eatherly prayed: “Return my form to me! I was born a man. Return it.”

A Japanese general, one of the first to arrive in tormented Hiroshima, saw a woman with a terrible burned face and body split apart, and next to her, in the dust, a live but unborn infant. This is like a nightmare, like one of Eatherly’s nightmares, when he thrashed in his bed: “Children, children!”

I have seen two portraits of Eatherly. In one, he is a young and smiling major who reminds one of a “fascinating” superman from an American war movie, though the features of the face seem a little shallow for a movie star; in the second, his features have become improbably enlarged, as if seen through a magnifying glass. This is in all likelihood because there is no longer a trace of the careless smile with its fleeting wrinkles.

The absolute immobility in this face is shattering. It is both dead and alive (it died or was resurrected this very moment). It is like a mask.

In fact, it is not the second, tragic face that is the mask, but the first – the thoughtlessly smiling one. It is a mask because it reflects not the world of this particular man, but of the spirit of the American army as the war was waning, a war that is closed out with minimal losses and maximum confidence in its own might. The second is not a mask, but a face impressed at the tragic moment of birth. It is stiff with pain, because birth is pain.

Eatherly dared to break the mask, and for this, the American military put him in an asylum, having declared him insane….Eatherly’s self-consciousness was born in the most monstrous torments, like the child that lay next to the disfigured woman on the hellish earth of Hiroshima. And this makes one think that the self-consciousness of the individual should be born before and not after – in the second, not the fifth act of a tragedy, when it is too late to make good the damage.

In the hospital Eatherly read and reread Plato‘s Dialogues. The Socratic idea that evil is done through ignorance was to him, evidently, not to be understood abstractly – it had for him the power of an original discovery, because it was his personal truth, he had reached it himself.

Yes, he was a slave of ignorance: from ignorance of the weapon (they had only been told obscurely that it was “wonder-working”) to ignorance of himself, of that innermost spiritual nucleus of the individual, which was wounded unto death by the consciousness of boundless evil.

What did he discuss with Socrates in the dead quiet of the ward for the “dangerously insane”? That the conscience is not the invention of philosophers, but no less a reality than “the first principles of the world,” fire and water? Or, perhaps, about immortality? Because, if after two and a half thousand years Claude Eatherly, immured by generals in an insane asylum, having come to hate the atom bomb, dreaming about the redemption of his sin, felt a need to commune with Socrates, then immortality, too, is no invention; it is also real, and Socrates, who in a biting polemic persuaded those who loved him of this – before his cup of hemlock – did not deceive them in the name of false comfort.

Out of the structure of the spiritless civilization of the contemporary West has emerged the “Eatherly phenomenon,” which is of moral value for all mankind. Something elemental is expressed in it: the structure of the ethical consciousness of mankind in a transitional age. Within this phenomenon live Socrates and the girl who in a thousand years may be born sick because the genes of one of her distant ancestors were struck by blinding lightning.

The Austrian philosopher Günther Anders wrote of Eatherly: “His is the attempt to keep conscience alive in the Age of the Apparatus.” If we are to believe the American press, computers selected targets for the bombardment in Vietnam. The traditional understanding of the reliability of the machine has changed: not the least role is apparently played by the fact that it is reliably conscience-free.

The value of the “Eatherly phenomenon” is that, in the “Age of the Apparatus” his nightmares put to the world the vast question of the relation between moral and creative forces in man and in humanity. The atomic storms that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed the might of the blinding non-imagination of evil. It has become clear that creative forces not ethically balanced are infinitely destructive.

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